How many words... before reading comprehension translates into speaking/listening?

This is, I am sure, a common question, but I would like to ask it myself. Having studied a few different languages here, I can read some material and recognize words, grammar and meaning. specifically in Spanish and French.

I have not accrued a massive amount of words in any one language, compared to the ten-thousands that many have. But, I am starting to feel comfortable enough. The issue is that my ability to read does not yet seem to have a great transfer to listening, nor to speaking.

When I hear these languages spoken, it seems like I am starting from the ground-up again. It is a relative challenge. I feel like I want to have the text in front of me to reference so that sounds become words.

My question then is for people who have a ton of “known” words here; how has that affected your ability to speak/listen in said language? Is there a point where you have to consciously focus on output, as I think these functions are, even if a person has a ton of input? My concern is that I will be able to read these languages but not create them, nor understand them well if they are spoken.

Anyone have any experience with this? Is there a cut-off point, like 20k words, whereby a person can understand and form sentences just from pure knowledge of vocabulary? Or is deliberate training required to hone in on these skills?
Thank you.


You should be listening along to material that you’re reading so you can build listening comprehension along with reading. Reading alone will not build your listening fast enough. You have to read and listen along. Then once you are good enough to just listen a lot, then listening might get you speaking more, since listening and speaking are more related than reading and speaking.


Someone over here said 600 hours of listening. I personally don’t know.


I agree, I think reading and listening go together.


I have no solid data on this issue but can report that when I listen to a lot of “comprehensible input” I begin to feel the urge to talk, and thoughts and phrases begin to form in my mind. This, I assume, is a good sign. Also I have recently started mixing up words in French (which I can speak at say B1-B2 level) and Bulgarian (which I can’t speak)–again, I think this a good sign, and I attribute this to 3 things: listening, listening, and listening.


As everyone else has said, you need to listen more. Listening should be your primary activity. I would say that you should forget about learning new words for the next few weeks and just listen on repeat to lessons that are easy for you to understand when you read them. That way the sounds will slowly become words.

I don’t think that there is a magic number of known words that turns on an output switch. I suspect that the point at which you want to speak has more to do with personality type than language ability. I heard a lot of french in my surroundings, eventually started listening, then came to lingq to get a bit more serious and decided that when I reached the number of words needed for intermediate 2 that i would start to write at least 100 words everyday. i reached that point yesterday, so today will be my first ever french output. I’m irrationally nervous about it. I’m not sure when i intend to start speaking yet. I’ll see how the writing goes.

All that to say - listen lots and the rest will come.


A question to begin…are you referring to listening to the content you are using on Lingq or elsewhere? Or specifically listening to live conversations, or people talking?

I’ll repeat like the others, you need to be doing at least as much listening as reading of the content you are looking at. (if you have the audio). You’ll also find the listening helps your reading and vocabulary acquisition. You need to listen enough to the content you have repeatedly so that you can pick out every word. Along with repeated readings you’ll learn most, if not, everything from that bit of content. You’ll be able to listen and follow along and understand. Granted a lot of this, in my opinion, is just that you’ve listened to that bit of content so many times you have it memorized so you may not be able to pick out many of those words in a different piece of content. However, the more you listen and read other content with those words it will sink in.

By the way, I say “repeated” readings and listenings. I really do think you need to repeat, but I also feel there may come a point where it’s best to move on to the next piece of content, even if you can’t quite remember/translate all the words. Some words simply won’t stick with you for some time and I think require seeing those words in different content before they may finally stick. Some of these words can take a LONG time.

BTW, I’m about your same level. The reason I ask the question at the beginning, is that I can listen and understand much of the content for my level, which frankly, we are still not very far. I’m learning German btw, and even at 7000 words I was mostly lost when I last visited Germany and was listening to conversations of my gf’s German family. Granted I think they sometimes use a bit of local dialect, but I was disappointingly lost. I often did get the gist of the subject matter, but never enough to feel comfortable asking a question regarding specifically what they were speaking of, or adding input. However, for most basic things, at a store or restaurant, or bar, I was able to communicate. Poorly, but nevertheless communicate on a very basic level, and I don’t do any speaking practice. I had definitely improved over last year as I could pick out many more words in the conversations, so I was excited about that. Still, much more work to go!

I think this points out that I can hear things that are at my level. I can also speak, at a lower level. For a regular conversation though, I think we still have too few words, and for me, still too little listening and speaking practice. (I think I’m near about 100 hours listening). I can have a basic conversation and talk about things and subjects I know at a very basic level. It would be quite poor and slow to spit out, but I can do it. I’m sure a native speaker would be bored to tears…lol. I do try to think of how I would describe situations, or what I did during the course of the day. Kind of thinking and speaking out to myself.


For me, I do my reading on LingQ and then I go over to youtube…find videos on subjects I like, in my target language, put on my headphones and turn on the auto generated target subs and go. Yes, the auto generated subs aren’t always 100 perfect, however I started learning portuguese 3 years ago from scratch. No prior success with language learning. Now I attend a portuguese speaking church and I interpret the service into english for the few americans that attend. I also teach an ESL class for portuguese speaking beginners and have to speak to the class in portuguese at different points in the lesson. So this works!!